How this mama took charge of her children’s food allergies—for good

“Our new diet has also affected moods and learning styles—everything is better because of the way we eat.”

How this mama took charge of her children’s food allergies—for good

Heather Christo is a chef, blogger, author, and mama to two beautiful daughters who were diagnosed with severe food allergies in 2014 (along with Heather as well.)

After receiving their diagnosis, Heather wasn’t going to complain and fret about what they could no longer have. She decided to take matters into her own hands to pave the way for those seeking an allergen-free lifestyle by creating healthy and delicious recipes.

Her new cook book, Pure Delicious, showcases 150 delectable recipes free from gluten, dairy, egg, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish and cane sugar.

Pure Delicious also details Heather and her family’s journey to their current allergen-free lifestyle—from the testing process, to trips to the ER, from stumped doctors to gradually cutting foods and ingredients out of their daily lives, and now— their new normal.

We got to chat with Heather about her new book, time-saving tips in the kitchen, and what it’s like to be a mother of children with food allergies.

A scary trip to the ER for your daughter followed by allergy testing led you to decide to live a completely allergen-free lifestyle. How did you initially wrap your head around going allergen-free?

Heather Christo: Uhhh, in the fetal position with a pillow over my head! (I’m mostly kidding.) For me it was not even a question of whether or not we would do it, or how soon we would do it, or whether we would all participate.

Because I knew it was the best possible path for the health of my children, the only question in my mind was “what’s the process of getting to that end result of great health?”

Once I got over the initial pangs of fear and panic, I got really serious about making a game plan. I work best with a systematic plan and a check-list, so that is how I approached the challenges: taking each one at a time, and going day by day and then week by week.

What was the process like—removing certain foods and ingredients from your body (and kids bodies) as well as from your pantry?

Heather Christo: Eye opening! I bet anyone would be surprised once they started pulling everything out and reading labels.

I had thought that we were eating pretty well as a family until I went through this process.

It wasn’t just that we had a house full of allergen filled foods—it was the amount of processed foods that freaked me out! Packaged snacks and convenience foods (even the “organic,” “healthy” snacks) are processed and full of fillers and I just had not realized how many of them we were eating on a daily basis. We are far more whole foods oriented than before.

How old were your children at the time, and how did they take to this switch?

Heather Christo: They were 5 and 3 when we started tracking and journaling, but just had turned 6 and 4 when we got our test results and went cold turkey, completely overhauling our lives. They reacted as any young children who don’t want to be denied—they were upset.

There was crying and tantrums and begging and guilt trips and it was hard—but only until I found them substitutes for the foods they loved.

Then it got much easier (hopefully my recipes make that much easier for other mothers!) Occasionally we still have a rough moment, especially with youngest who is now 6—but that is being human and we just try to roll with the punches and talk her through it.

A lot of mothers deal with the fear that their child might eat something that they are allergic to by accident. How do you deal with those anxieties, especially at social gatherings?

Heather Christo: I am really lucky in that neither of my children are anaphylactic, so that takes the life and death element out of the equation. However, I still worry.

Initially I had tremendous anxiety and did a bit of hovering, but we came up with better (and more productive!) options that let my children have some flexibility.

I made laminated cards for them and caretakers to carry with the allergies. They also wore medical ID bracelets with their allergies in case any misguided adults were not paying attention or had their own ideas about what my children should be eating. It didn’t take long before my children could be trusted on their own and regular caretakers, teachers, family and friends all knew the drill.

Going completely allergen-free for the whole family can sound intimidating to some. Why would you suggest this lifestyle?

Heather Christo: Without question, despite the challenges of the transition, it is the best thing I have ever done for my family. Health is the foundation for everything good in life.

When you eliminate the stress of physical sickness, or chronic mediocre health, you free up so much time and energy to focus on your life.

Our new diet has also affected moods and learning styles—everything is better because of the way we eat. It may have been difficult when the kids are young, but I am happy I can give them the foundation for a full life filled with nutritious, beneficial eating and the tools for achieving great long term health.

Pure Delicious is a beautiful book, filled with amazing recipes. But it is also an extremely helpful guidebook for those who are looking to learn more about what our bodies can be allergic to, how to substitute safe ingredients, and all the specifics that go along with allergies. Why was it important to you to write Pure Delicious as a guidebook filled with recipes, instead of just a book of recipes?

Heather Christo: When I went through this process I didn’t feel that I had anywhere to turn for answers, and I know many other people who felt that way. It took me a year to piecemeal together information from a ton of different sources which was incredibly frustrating. I also couldn’t find any recipes that addressed all of our needs, so I had to make them up myself.

I knew we had to use our experiences to make this easier for other families and individuals going through similar situations.

I really wanted to take all of that research and all of that (very difficult!) recipe developing and create a one-stop resource for food allergies and sensitivities.

Do your daughters like to cook with you? How do you include them in the cooking process?

Heather Christo: They love it. Because of my job, they have always been in the kitchen with me. I find that my older daughter really likes the technical part of it (measuring, mixing, stirring) and then my youngest likes to help me “style” the food and take pictures. They both like to taste test!

I love to have them participate in making a meal when we can do that.

They are both obsessed with chopping food up (even if it’s still just with a butter knife!) and dumping ingredients in hot pans—basically the more dangerous the better! But at the end of the day I like that they will know how to cook and that they see what goes into the dishes that they like best and are eating on a daily basis.

Every mama is a busy mama. How do you save time in the kitchen? Any meal-planning or grocery shopping tips?

Heather Christo: I do try to plan out at least a few days worth of meals, which saves time grocery shopping.

I also am big on making double batches of pretty much everything to save time.

I will freeze the extra meatballs and sauce and in the time it takes to boil some pasta, you can heat up the sauce and meatballs. Or you can make a huge pot of soup or chili stretch for days. Or I will bake two loaves of banana bread and put one in the freezer, or freeze extra cookies in individual baggies for school lunches.

What are your pantry staples?

Heather Christo: Diamond Kosher salt, Bobs Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour, Organic Beet Sugar, Organic Rolled Gluten Free Oats, Homemade Muffin Mix, Homemade Pancake and Waffle Mix, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Chia Seeds.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for mamas who want to go allergen-free?

Heather Christo: Try to go into it with a great, positive attitude!

Attitude is highly contagious, and will help set the tone for the process as well as how those around you react to you or your family making such big changes.

If you are cool with it, and seem content in your choices for your family, everyone will follow suit, showing their support.

These are the best bath time products you can get for under $20

These budget-friendly products really make a splash.

With babies and toddlers, bath time is about so much more than washing off: It's an opportunity for fun, sensory play and sweet bonding moments—with the added benefit of a cuddly, clean baby afterward.

Because bathing your baby is part business, part playtime, you're going to want products that can help with both of those activities. After countless bath times, here are the products that our editors think really make a splash. (Better yet, each item is less than $20!)

Comforts Bath Wash & Shampoo

Comforts Baby Wash & Shampoo

Made with oat extract, this bath wash and shampoo combo is designed to leave delicate skin cleansed and nourished. You and your baby will both appreciate the tear-free formula—so you can really focus on the bath time fun.

Munckin Soft Spot Bath Mat

Munchkin slip mat

When your little one is splish-splashing in the bath, help keep them from also sliding around with a soft, anti-slip bath mat. With strong suction cups to keep it in place and extra cushion to make bath time even more comfortable for your little one, this is an essential in our books.

Comforts Baby Lotion

Comforts baby lotion

For most of us, the bath time ritual continues when your baby is out of the tub when you want to moisturize their freshly cleaned skin. We look for lotions that are hypoallergenic, nourishing and designed to protect their skin.

The First Years Stack Up Cups

First year stack cups

When it comes to bath toys, nothing beats the classic set of stackable cups: Sort them by size, practice pouring water, pile them high—your little one will have fun with these every single bath time.

Comforts Baby Oil

Comforts baby oil

For dry skin that needs a little extra TLC, our team loves Comforts' fast-absorbing baby oil aloe vera and vitamin E. Pro tip: When applied right after drying off your baby, the absorption is even more effective.

KidCo Bath Toy Organizer

KidCo Bath Organizer

Between bathing supplies, wash rags, toys and more, the tub sure can get crowded in a hurry. We like that this organizer gives your little one space to play and bathe while still keeping everything you need within reach.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

This is my one trick to get baby to sleep (and it always works!)

There's a reason why every mom tells you to buy a sound machine.

So in my defense, I grew up in Florida. As a child of the sunshine state, I knew I had to check for gators before sitting on the toilet, that cockroaches didn't just scurry, they actually flew, and at that point, the most popular and only sound machine I had ever heard of was the Miami Sound Machine.

I was raised on the notion that the rhythm was going to get me, not lull me into a peaceful slumber. Who knew?!

Well evidently science and, probably, Gloria Estefan knew, but I digress.

When my son was born, I just assumed the kid would know how to sleep. When I'm tired that's what I do, so why wouldn't this smaller more easily exhausted version of me not work the same way? Well, the simple and cinematic answer is, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Being in utero is like being in a warm, soothing and squishy spa. It's cozy, it's secure, it comes with its own soundtrack. Then one day the spa is gone. The space is bigger, brighter and the constant stream of music has come to an abrupt end. Your baby just needs a little time to acclimate and a little assist from continuous sound support.

My son, like most babies, was a restless and active sleeper. It didn't take much to jolt him from a sound sleep to crying like a banshee. I once microwaved a piece of pizza, and you would have thought I let 50 Rockettes into his room to perform a kick line.

I was literally walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the house, watching the television with the closed caption on.

Like adults, babies have an internal clock. Unlike adults, babies haven't harnessed the ability to hit the snooze button on that internal clock. Lucky for babies they have a great Mama to hit the snooze button for them.

Enter the beloved by all—sound machines.

Keep reading Show less

It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

Keep reading Show less